Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[politics] Being Americans who speak our minds

On this day 236 years ago, George III of England allegedly wrote in his diary, 'Nothing of importance happened today.'" This is almost certainly not true, but it sure makes a great quip.

As it happened, on that same day a group of middle-aged heteronormative white men who were for the most part the 1%ers of their era ratified a document called The Declaration of Independence. Thus was born an imperfect and glorious project in democracy, in private religion and public debate, in national idiocy and cultural wisdom. On the whole, I think they and we got a lot more things right than we got wrong.

The United States of America is my country. We have done great things, and we have done terrible things. We are not today at our best, but neither are we at our worst. While I am not jingoistic, I am a patriot. As a patriot I both love and criticize my country, its government and its people.

Whoever we are, wherever we are, as Americans we have both a right and duty to speak our minds. That right has often been abrogated for many people in many times and many places. Even today, we practice this principle erratically at best. People are silenced all the time, because of their gender, their sexual identity, their ethnic identity, their immigration status, their religion, their politics, any number of reasons. People are also enabled all the time, especially by newer technologies and the ever more flattened field of public discourse. As irregularly implemented as this right to free speech is, it is also nonetheless enshrined in our Constitution, and embedded in our national consciousness.

By coincidence, yesterday on my blog I exercised my First Amendment rights to go pretty far out on my political soapbox. [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

There's some interesting commentary in both sides of my blog. But even more interesting to me was the responses of people who disagreed with me. Specifically on Brad Torgersen's Facebook page, and his blog post entitled The Conservative Menace?. While there was a fair amount of the usual false equivalency and smokescreen rhetoric in response to me, there was also a minimum of name calling and quite a bit of constructive engagement.

I'm still framing a response to Brad's blog post. I think he's drawing false equivalencies there, and relying on personal anecdote to counter polling data presented by me, but I also think he's addressing the issues in good faith from his perspective, and (again) engaging constructively.

Likewise, Bryan Thomas Schmidt and I are working on a joint blog post based on some private chat dialog we had as a result of my original post.

I also wanted to paraphrase myself from Brad's comment thread, as I said a couple of things I think are important in this context. First, I brought up something that I failed to be clear about in yesterday's post. I wasn't criticizing conservatism as a political philosophy, nor particular individual conservatives. Although there is a great deal I disagree with in the conservative worldview, those are areas of legitimate disagreement. Concerning, for example, tax policy or the proper role of government in social assistance. What I was trying to say was that the litmus tests of contemporary conservatism have become dangerously defective. Foundational assumptions not of conservatism per se, but of the contemporary American conservative movement. To some readers, this may be a distinction without a difference, but it feels meaningful to me.

Secondly, I made a comment about what it feels like to be a member of the American left. (And note I choose my phrasing carefully. By European standards, I am at best a left-leaning centrist, and even that is being somewhat generous.) I want certain things for myself and all my fellow citizens, including:
  • Equality of opportunity

  • A minimum standard of living and healthcare

  • A safe, clean environment

  • A reliable and expanding future

  • A safer world around the planet so Americans, and everyone else can prosper

I rather suspect that this list has a strong overlap with what most conservatives desire. Where we diverge is in what these individual items mean to us, how those goals might be achieved, and at least in terms of the current political dynamic, what the proper role of government in all its forms (regulation, taxation, etc.) is in achieving those goals. Some of that divergence is overwhelmingly vast, and some of it is deeply acrimonious. But fundamentally, almost all of us want to do the right thing.

That's important for me to keep sight of. Especially when I'm feeling very politically irritated.

236 years ago, this ball got rolling, at least in its American form. A few years after that, the Constitution formally enshrined a principle that I and a number of other Americans with whom I have a great deal of disagreement exercised yesterday. We spoke freely, and for the most part civilly.

Maybe that's the best July 4th present I could ask for.

Tags: history, personal, politics

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